Kennedy kin Skakel seeks new trial in 1975 murder

HARTFORD, Connecticut Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:52pm EDT

Kennedy family nephew Michael Skakel is escorted by court officers out of Norwalk Superior Court in Norwalk, Connecticut after being sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, August 29, 2002, for the 1975 murder of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Kennedy family nephew Michael Skakel is escorted by court officers out of Norwalk Superior Court in Norwalk, Connecticut after being sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, August 29, 2002, for the 1975 murder of his teenage neighbor Martha Moxley.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Bourg

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HARTFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - Lawyers for Kennedy relative Michael Skakel on Thursday sought a new trial to overturn his conviction in the 1975 murder of his 15-year-old neighbor, saying new evidence implicates other men.

Skakel, nephew of Robert, John and Edward Kennedy, asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to throw out his conviction based on information from former classmate Gitano "Tony" Bryant, who implicated two other men in a case that until 2002 lay unsolved for more than a quarter of a century.

Bryant said in an interview videotaped in 2003 that he accompanied two friends from New York to Belle Haven, the gated Connecticut community where the Skakels lived, on the night Martha Moxley was beaten to death with a golf club.

The evidence was developed with help from Skakel's cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer who is the eldest son of the late Robert F. Kennedy and has argued that Skakel was wrongly convicted.

Thursday's hearing was an appeal of a 2007 superior court decision that denied Skakel a new trial.

Bryant, a Miami tobacco distributor who went to school with Skakel and is a relative of basketball star Kobe Bryant, said he was with Adolph Hasbrouck and Burton Tinsley before they attacked Moxley and killed her "caveman style."

Bryant claims the trio met with 10 to 15 neighborhood kids in a meadow behind Skakel's property and that he left before Hasbrouck and Tinsley found Moxley and beat her with a golf club. Bryant, along with Hasbrouck and Tinsley, have since invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

"Bryant admitted to being at the scene in Belle Haven on the night of the murder, he admitted to handing the golf clubs, he admitted to having conversations with his two friends from New York -- Hasbrouck and Tinsley -- and he put himself right in the mix of the murder," Skakel attorney Hubert Santos told the court.

Moxley's body was found on the lawn of her parents' home in the affluent town of Greenwich, Connecticut, next door to the Skakel house. She had been bludgeoned with a golf club that matched a set belonging to Skakel's late mother.

Skakel, now 48, was 15 at the time of the murder. He was convicted in 2002 and is serving a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. Prosecutors say he had a romantic interest in Moxley and became jealous when he saw her flirting with his older brother, Thomas Skakel, on the evening of the murder.

Prosecutor Susan Gill disputed Bryant's claims, saying none of the teenagers who Bryant allegedly met on the night of the murder have come forward as witnesses.

"According to Mr. Bryant, they were drinking beer, they were smoking marijuana, they were making sexually inappropriate comments," she told the court. "Not one person has ever come forward to say, 'I was one of those 15 people he hung out with that night.' Not in 1975. Not today. Not one person."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 declined to hear an appeal by Skakel seeking to overturn his conviction on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated because Connecticut's five-year statute of limitations, in place at the time Moxley died, had expired when he was charged in 2000.

The case added to the aura of tragedy haunting America's most celebrated political family some four decades after the assassinations of its most famous scions, President John Kennedy and his brother Robert.

(Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Trott)

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